Zombeavers starts on familiar ground. Three sexy, nubile co-eds arrive at a remote lakeside cabin for a weekend getaway, and are later joined by their three horny, male counterparts. There’s an older couple who live nearby and a leering, hick-type hunter who pops up from time to time, but that’s about it. There’s no cell service. Beer is consumed, sex is had. But there’s also an evil force in these woods that begins to menace the kids before outright terrorizing them. People die in bloody fashion as those remaining make a desperate bid for safety.
Sound familiar? Director/co-screenwriter Jordan Rubin is counting on it, as the references to other horror movies are dished up liberally. The absurdist twist is that the menace is not the human undead but radioactive killer beavers – or “zombeavers,” if you will – and the central conceit is that the filmmakers are in on the joke. That joke wears pretty thin, though the movie has its moments.
The girls are divided, as required by horror law, between The Virgin, The Whore, and The Smart One, and the guys have their Jock, Clown, and Unfaithful Boyfriend. (Their actual names in the film are by and large irrelevant.) After two idiot truck drivers spill toxic waste into the lake (as one does) and create mutant, animatronic zombie beaver killing machines (as one will), the kids hole up in the cabin in terror, figuring a way out. The Clown already had his foot bitten off and is in bad shape; they need to get him to a hospital, but the beavers are in the way and show no signs of letting up their terrible beaver death spree. One by one, the kids meet gruesome ends, until The Final Girl makes it to safety … or does she?!
So, yeah. If that meta-awareness and smirking also sounds familiar, that’s because Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s Cabin In The Woods just did this recently, much better and with far fewer terrible beaver puns. Zombeaver has some truly laugh-out-loud moments – the truck drivers are amiably dopey and subvert the gay jokes you think are coming, the old neighbor memorably writes off the commotion next door as “probably just those kids, scissoring and listening to Lady Gaga,” and the hick has an amusing tendency to add “goddamn” before every short sentence (“Goddamn beavers!”) – but they are way too infrequent for a movie this intentionally silly. The girls’ constant state of undress starts as a slasher joke, but after a while I think Rubin just preferred it that way. The ludicrousness of the beaver puppets is fun for a while, and there’s a bonkers final twist that packs in some gross-out gore so you get your money’s worth, but there’s just not enough here to recommend, even at 77 tight minutes.
The sub-bro humor – did you guys know “beaver” can mean “vagina”? Haha! – comes as no surprise once you learn that Rubin wrote for “The Man Show” and “Crank Yankers,” among other dire television series aimed at frat brothers and the people who saw Idiocracy and thought, “You know, I’d watch ‘Ow, My Balls.’” And this is, if nothing else, a movie that knows its audience.
The problem isn’t just that it isn’t very funny, or scary, or silly, or sexy. The real problem is that the self-awareness shtick comes off more smug than smart – with the success of Sharknado and its sequels (which Zombeaver resembles in every way except its production value), it’s now lucrative to crank this stuff out, pitched to the lowest common denominator. Where a movie like The Room achieved a kind of lunatic grace by believing in its genius despite all evidence to the contrary, these latter movies are simply trafficking in badness, which doesn’t make them better for knowing it; it just makes them more annoying. I realize it’s asking a lot of a no-budget genre send-up saddled with a joke title to be a bit smarter, but there you are.
In any case, if you are in the mood for intentionally terrible puppetry, copious female nudity paired with no male nudity whatsoever (surprising!), five or six good jokes, and watching a man’s stunt penis be devoured by a zombeaver (symbolism!), this might be the movie for you. If you enjoy good movies, or even good-bad movies, I’d swim for another shore. Quickly, before the zombeavers eat your brain and/or genitals.